Personal Note: I’m often asked where the horses go in winter when they leave Mackinac Island. Several years ago I wrote a two-part blog that followed a group of horses on their journey from the island to their winter quarters. I was privileged to be allowed to travel with them on the ferry to St. Ignace and then in a caravan of trucks (pulling horse trailers) into the upper peninsula of Michigan. Below is the first part of that blog, and I’ll post the second part, “To Fresh Woods and Pastures New”, on Sunday. Hope you enjoy!
DO THEY KNOW? (First published October 8, 2010)
“Do you think they know what’s about to happen?”
That was one of dozens of questions I asked Wednesday and Thursday. I’ve always wanted to go to the Pickford farms, where the horses of the island go to spend their winters, but I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen – at least not this year. Then a few days ago I put a bug in Doc Al’s (the island vet) ear that I’d like to do this story, and he asked all the right people, and all those people said “ok”.
So there I was at the big horse barn on Wednesday afternoon, where I’d been told by Dale Peterson (who runs the barn) I could watch the blacksmith remove the shoes from some of the horses leaving the island on Thursday morning.
Ted set the alarm clock for 6:30 Thursday morning, and I grumbled myself awake. I needed to be at the barn (a five-minute walk from the condo) at 8 a.m. so I could watch the workers catch the horses in the corral. I figured an hour-and-a-half would be plenty of time to get myself awake enough to make sense when I got down there. Silly me. I’d forgotten how many months it’s been since I had to get up at 6:30 (almost 2 hours earlier than I’ve been getting up lately). I needed to wash my hair (don’t ask me why – I just felt like it needed to be washed) – which I did. I needed two cups of coffee so I wouldn’t growl at anyone (I made the coffee and didn’t have time to drink a drop). I couldn’t decide how many layers to wear (after checking the Weather Channel for Pickford – an hour north), I decided on three, saddling myself with two too many – it was a gorgeous northern Michigan Indian Summer day.
I left the condo at 7:50, and arrived at the barn to find taxi and Carriage Tour drivers busy washing and harnessing their horses for a regular day.
It was while I was watching the horses in the corral that Dale walked over, and I asked, “Do you think they know what’s about to happen?”
He smiled. “Oh, yeah – they know”, he said. “We have 36 going today, and yesterday all of their shoes were removed. They are never put into the corral without their shoes. So they know something is different. And the ones who have been through this for a few years learn to anticipate it.”
On Sunday, we’ll travel to Pickford and watch the horses unload into what – to them – must feel like Heaven on earth. You will love it!